Looking Back at Riverside BIA Accomplishments of 2020 to Help Us Move Forward in 2021

A message from Riverside BIA Executive Director, Jennifer Lay:

YES, this has been A YEAR…..BUT this past year has reinforced the perseverance, ingenuity, kindness, caring and resilience of everyone in this business community. I’ve appreciated working more closely albeit mostly virtually, with many of you and getting to know you better.

While we could not do our usual annual roster of event-based programming, when the pandemic hit and the shutdown was ordered, the Riverside BIA virtual office and operations did not shut down, even for a day, and we responded immediately to start supporting you through information updates, one-to-one support, enhanced online presence to share your updates, ‘support local’ campaigns, and many innovative virtual events, fundraising efforts, and offerings.

One initiative our Marketing Committee came up with is these Open signs – featured in BlogTO and emulated by BIAs across Toronto – to help let people know, at a glance, what’s Open during COVID. This was very helpful as a promotional tool during the major shutdown and as reopenings happened, and can still be seen on the street today.

Our Board also decided to support our members directly with PPE kits of supplies, and a link to preferred pricing with suppliers of locally-made PPE. We’ve given out 60 such kits and if you need a kit or a contact, just get in touch.

I can attest, advocacy can work and it is really about bringing our concerns, needs and good ideas forward to our elected officials to help inform critical policies and programs. The BIA has been doing this throughout the pandemic and will keep doing this proactively and in response to government announcements. We have done more of this in the past 6 months than ever in our history and will keep it up. It has produced results.

During 2020 we also ramped up our streetscape programs, including enhanced Weekly graffiti removal services thanks to our awesome service provider Wipeout, neighbourhood beautification, and litter collection. Did you know that we have a cigarette butt collection program? Our street maintenance manager Drew has collected nearly 100,000 units since 2015 that have been recycled.

We also implemented some special streetscape projects this year. Thanks to East End Arts and an Outdoor Mural grant from the City of Toronto we participated in the Girls Mural Camp 2020, here in Riverside. Girls Mural Camp is an opportunity for youth who identify as girls, young women, female or non-binary to explore the history and practice of street art, and to co-create a large street mural together. Girls worked with established mural artists Bareket Kezwer and Monica Wickeler. Their piece on the back of 4 Munro Street, explores their growth and journey during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the question, “When everything stops, what keeps going?”


We also had the privilege of participating in the iheART Mainstreet Art Challenge, thanks to a partnership with the Steps Initiative, RBC, and Toronto artists, Riverside business, and local story tellers. We implemented the ‘Humans of Riverside’ series: this project not only supported the Goal of Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC individuals, but added incredible public art to storefront windows. I am pleased to share that among all the participating BIAs, Riverside won the challenge prize and we will be putting this prize toward our Window Wonderland contest in Riverside, stay tuned for details on how to take part and get your window designed and installed by a local artist!


A key program the BIA worked extremely hard on was outdoor patios in partnership with the City’s CafeTO Team. Riverside BIA was among the first two BIAs to launch the CafeTO program on July 1 with Mayor Tory and Councillor Fletcher at Eastbound. Most of our 20+ CafeTO member operators benefitted from about 20 weeks of the program. I want to emphasize this would not have been possible without the support of the City, and want to applaud this incredible economic support program. We look forward to working with our members to navigate outdoor dining as part of the Winter CafeTO program, and bring back the full CafeTO program, new and improved in 2021.

Shifting gears, as part of our efforts to promote Riverside digitally, we’ve created the Riverside Online Marketplace using Shopify, thanks to a grant from the City of Toronto BIA Innovation Fund. This is focused on helping promote members with online products and/or services of which there are more and more every day thanks to partnerships like Digital Main Street, ShopHere and ToGo Toronto.

As part of this grant we have been testing a number of virtual events. Our very first was Riverside Eats, in collaboration with local chefs, which doubled as a fundraiser for the local food program at Mustard Seed, Fontbonne Ministries. Just last week, we hosted our Riverside HOWL-O-WEEN virtually in collaboration with all our community partners. Our Riverside Public Art Tour was a hit and lastly, our virtual Riverside Antler Breakfast was the most successful yet (more on this below!!).  We used these experiences to create a toolkit for all Toronto BIAs to learn how to do this. Again, big thanks to the City for making this possible.

And we could not forget, it’s our BIA’s 40th anniversary year. We launched the Riverside 40 years, 40 stories series to tell the stories that make this neighbourhood special. From the story of how the BIA began with a small group of dedicated business owners, sitting around a kitchen table at night, to big projects like the Riverside bridge lighting and stories from local business members like George the Barber who has been here longer than the BIA itself. This story telling series is powerful and meaningful. We’re now nearly half-way through and would welcome you to submit a story to share.

This year’s Riverside Window Wonderland was a collaboration coming out of the Steps Initiative and RBC IheART Main Street Art Challenge!  As the winner of the Community-Engaged winner, Riverside BIA used resources to expand our placemaking initiatives to showcase community pride, collaborate with more artists and businesses in this year’s edition of Window Wonderland. Click to see all the designs and find out who won this year’s contest!

We capped off the year demonstrating a virtual coming together like never before by raising $12,784 for the Rivertowne Breakfast Program through the 9th Annual (1st virtual) Riverside Antler Breakfast. THANK YOU to all the sponsors, donors, supporters and organizers and the outpouring of support from the community.

Here’s to a brighter 2021 of working together on big and little initiatives in the Riverside BIA – Bring it ON!!